Papers from the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology Conferences

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Most theorizing about forgiveness conceptualize forgiveness as an intrapersonal process in which negative feelings are transformed into positive ones, with the goal of inner peace for the forgiver. Forgiveness viewed as an interpersonal process, in contrast, focuses on behaviors, such as reconciliation, that lead to the restoration of social harmony. Several studies have demonstrated that the understanding and practice of forgiveness differs across cultures. We examined the hypothesis that North Americans understand forgiveness as more of an intrapersonal phenomenon and less of an interpersonal phenomenon relative to Asians. A sample of 153 participants recruited through Facebook completed an online survey. Findings generally support the hypothesis: North Americans endorsed intrapersonal over interpersonal understandings of forgiveness, Southeast Asians endorsed interpersonal over intrapersonal understandings, and South Asians were closely split between the two definitions. The current findings suggest that collectivistic forgiveness is not a unitary construct, and that the application of theory and therapy models based on Western conceptions of forgiveness to Asian populations may be inaccurate and even harmful. Future research should examine forgiveness across collectivistic cultures. Additionally, cross-cultural research on forgiveness should use specific affective, cognitive, and behavioral terms when assessing a participant’s level of forgiveness; broad questions assessing a participant’s general forgiveness may be difficult to interpret and compare cross-culturally.

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